Warehouse Heating Problem Solved…3+ Years Later

When we first moved in to our warehouse back in February of 2008 we were less than thrilled with the heating situation. Don’t get me wrong – the place was the perfect size for the perfect price, and to be honest the low cost of operating it is probably one of our biggest assets…but the heating situation still sucked.

There were two oil heating units, one for the office and one for the warehouse, both of which looked like they were no less than fifty years old. The place hadn’t had an occupant in over five years, so the oil at the bottom of the tanks had turned in to almost exclusively oil sludge. The heater that was supposed to be heating the warehouse was pointed directly at a cement wall about five feet away, and about ten feet away from a garage door that looked about fifty years old as well.

We figured we’d do everything we could to make the most of a bad situation. We sprayed foam in every gap we could around the garage door and anywhere else in the place that we thought air was getting through. We spent thousands of dollars over the years having the heaters maintenanced in hopes of adding a few percentage points of efficiency. We kept garage doors shut unless it was absolutely necessary. We installed programmable thermostats to try to optimize our oil usage. The list goes on.

None of it worked really. When you live in the northeast, you’re dealing with several months of freezing temperatures. You need good heating. This was not good heating. From the first week we moved in it was nothing but a disaster. The oil tanks were improperly filled by the company we contracted out and the heating system turned off. We thought we had a full tank of oil. Turns out we were running off that old sludge.

That was when we realized the other thing that sucks about oil – it’s expensive and you need to pre-pay for it. The first real fill-up cost us over $3k. Detailed Image’s slowest months are January and February. It sucks having to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to pre-pay for heating when your cash flow is at it’s tightest, as it especially was during those first two winters.

And who can forget the smell. The smell of oil burning made my stomach sick (or, you know, maybe more properly, breathing in burning oil made my stomach sick). My clothes would smell like oil when I’d go home. There’s no way it was safe for us or for our employees to be breathing that air in from those shitty heaters.

When it became abundantly clear that those heaters weren’t going to get the job done, no matter what we tried, we started complaining. We were able to get the industrial park to put in a new garage door, free of charge. That was a huge win.

Then our lease came up for renewal. Again, the price that we pay per square foot at this place is really cheap. Like half as much as we’d pay for similar places around here. So it’s not that easy to negotiate a major expense like a new heater. Thankfully, we have Greg, aka “the pitbull” who was able to take their initial offer – a propane system that we paid for – and eventually get them to agree to a natural gas heater that they paid for. Natural gas was highly preferable to propane for us – it’s cheaper, we avoid pre-paying, and it doesn’t smell.

Then sometime around early March – still heating season in these parts – the large oil heater stopped working completely. We suffered through the end of winter with the one tiny heater meant for the office area, taking solace in the fact that a new heater was coming.

A few months later they started installation on the new heating unit. The coordination between the natural gas company and our industrial park’s team of contractors stretched out the installation until yesterday. I kid you not. This took a solid 5 months to install. During that 5 months they probably spent 10 man days total working on the unit. It was freezing in here last week, but again, we put up with it knowing that things would be better this winter.

Finally, finally yesterday the unit was turned on for the first time. Of course, they gave us a cheap thermostat. So this morning I installed a nice programmable thermostat and we finally should be all set.

The heater is a beast! Here’s a quick pic I snapped with my phone:

Warehouse Heater

It’s meant to warm areas twice as large as ours. We were skeptical about it’s ability to heat our entire place, but it’s doing a great job. You can feel it all the way in the other corner of the warehouse. It’s a much more evenly spread warmth than we ever had with the crappy oil system. We’ll be able to keep the temperature at a much more comfortable setting in the dead middle of winter, we’ll still probably pay quite a bit less, and we won’t have to pre-pay for it and keep track of the tank levels.

This has been a thorn in our side since the day we moved in. It has taken up way, way more of our collective time than I want to think about. But now it is finally solved. Sometimes you can never anticipate the crazy shit you have to deal with as a business owner.

Update 1/13/2016 – our unit is made by Modine

Update 2/24/2016 – I closed comments on the post. Most people have been asking for numbers or for more info on the Modine. Our numbers are from last winter and are probably not as accurate anymore, especially given fuel cost fluctuations, and we don’t know much about the Modine heater. We’d have to get up on a ladder to look for the model number, I can’t find it from the ground.

48 comments on Warehouse Heating Problem Solved…3+ Years Later

  1. Dale says:

    It’s funny when you said this thing’s a beast, I expected a huge heating system… and your pic showed this little thing in the corner. I guess it’s all relative 🙂

    • Adam McFarland says:

      I meant a beast in terms of heating power 🙂 And it is probably a little bigger than it appears at first glance (compare it to the forklift below). But it’s much, much smaller than our oil units which are gigantic and go from floor to ceiling. The reason I mentioned we were skeptical about this new heater’s ability to heat the entire place was because of it’s size. They kept reassuring us that it was more than enough, and it is.

      • Kathryn Salvador says:

        Adam
        This is great information – my warehouse has a 25 ft. Barrel roof with the standard concrete slab floor approx 35′ square…. So your story rings loud and clear.
        The details about your unit and average running costs would be so helpful as I decid how to proceed with my new heating install this coming spring / summer…
        Many thanks again
        Kathryn Salvador

  2. Mark W. says:

    Hi Adam, I’m sure you know more about heating than you ever intended or cared to find out about. What made this post so good, though, is how you described the more than 3.5 year journey to conquer this problem. It was way too long but those are the ones where the most satisfaction, memories, and learning takes place. I think you and your associates will be transferring some lessons learned here to other problems that will come up in the future. Thanks for this interesting post.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Thanks Mark! I think you’re right. There’s something to be said for persistence and the satisfaction that comes from seeing that persistence pay off.

  3. Rosanne Avila says:

    Hi Adam,
    Could you please share the brand and model of that heater. We are about to move our music store into a light industrial area. We are in northern California – winters aren’t too bad but summer can be. We would like to store our instruments in a climate controlled area without renting a seperate storage unit for them.
    Thank you, Rosanne

  4. Amanda Carrick says:

    Hi Adam,
    I’m thinking of renting a 4000sq ft concrete warehouse space with 23 foot wood-beamed ceilings – the rent is cheap and it would be a very cool space for my antique furniture store – but I will need to heat it in the winter.
    The heater in it is similar to the one in your photo, and runs on natural gas.
    I was wondering what your running costs were so that I could try to do a rough ‘guestimate’ of what mine might be.
    I’m in Vancouver, where we are lucky to have relatively mild winters – but it is always very damp!
    Thanks, Amanda

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Hi Amanda,

      I just shot you an email with details. Thanks for reading & commenting!

      – Adam

  5. Jon Smoulcey says:

    Adam I have a 2 story building. The rent is cheap by today’s standard, and I have a high efficiency furnace on the first floor that does ok. The second floor is barely insulated brick walls and is 3000 sq. I don’t meen to be rude and ask, but what should I expect for a monthly bill. Plus since I live in NY they sock us with every tax, fee, and god knows what else.
    Thank you,
    Jon

  6. Ben says:

    I have a 9,000 sq warhouse, how much dose it heat ? I need something for winter coming up and I have no heat at all in there. Could you help?

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Hi Ben,

      They told us it could heat ~10,000 sq-ft when they installed it, but after using it for a few years I’m a bit skeptical. You can definitely feel it all the way in the other corner, but since it doesn’t rotate there are some dead zones where it doesn’t get nearly as warm as the rest of the place. My completely unscientific opinion is that a unit this size is good up to about 6,000 sq-ft. That said, they probably make similar units with a bit more power or more directional fans. The huge attraction is that you just hang it and turn it on and it does a pretty good job. Compared to installing an entire heating system this is much cheaper & easier. I’d consult with a local HVAC company to see what your options are. Certainly bring up a unit like this to them to see what they think. Good luck!

      – Adam

  7. Scott says:

    Hi Adam,

    I’m in the process of upgrading our heating system in a 5400 sq ft area. I would appreciate receiving the running costs that you provided to a few others. Thanks

  8. Rhonda Wells says:

    Can you tell me approximately what it cost to install this unit.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Hi Rhonda,

      Our industrial park ended up paying for it so I don’t recall what the pricing was offhand, somewhere between $2k and $5k would be my best guess. Sorry I couldn’t be of more assistance.

      – Adam

  9. Rhonda Wells says:

    You may have mentioned this somewhere and I may have missed it but can you tell me how this unit is powered is it electric or using natural gas

  10. Rhonda Wells says:

    sorry I missed your reply thank you very much I’m going to look into this

  11. Flavia says:

    Hi Adam,
    Could you send me the costs details??

  12. Kate says:

    Hi Adam,

    Thanks for your very interesting post. I’m currently trying to work out how much a monthly heating bill would be, using the same system as yourself for a similar sized warehouse. Would you mind emailing me the cost details you have sent onto others?

    many thanks

  13. Irfan says:

    Would you be able to send me more information you’ve sent to others including approximate amount you spend on fuel? I’m in NY as well and need to work on this ASAP

    Best regards

  14. Adam McFarland says:

    Just emailed you Irfan & Steve!

  15. Eddie Ball says:

    Hey Adam,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Very insightful.

    I’m thinking of building a warehouse for a gymnasium and would really appreciate if you could send me the running cost of the heater and average outside temperature. Also, I may have missed it but what was the size of the warehouse you are working out of?

    Thanks,

    Eddie Ball

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Hi Eddie,

      Our warehouse is just over 5,000 sq-ft. I’m sending you the cost info now….

      – Adam

  16. Daniel says:

    Hi Adam,

    I’m on the same situation. 4,200 sqft warehouse with 32 degrees outside. Ceiling is 20ft, and the whole building has metal sheet walls with insulation on the ceiling.

    Is really cold inside. Could your fwd me the email?

  17. Greg says:

    Hi Adam,
    We’re in a similair situation in Minnesota. Could you send me your heating figures?
    Thanks!

  18. Michael MacDougal says:

    Adam,

    Good story. I think we are in a similar situation. Could you send me model and cost info?

    Thanks,
    Michael

  19. Dan Sullivan says:

    Adam I am in NY and in a situation where I need to heat a warehouse that is 21,000 sq ft with 20ft ceilings. I am looking to increase the temperature about 20-35 degrees which is all I will need for my purposes. Can you email me your heating figures, cost info, etc ( anything that you think would help me and steer me in the right direction.
    Greatly Appreciated

  20. Adam McFarland says:

    Just sent Michael & Dan!

  21. Tony Kim says:

    Hi Adam
    Very informative story.
    I’m in Wasilla Alaska 4000 sq ft warehouse looking for a good heater.
    Please send me some info
    Thank you
    Tony

  22. Todd Santoro says:

    This is a great post! Have almost identical facility. Would you mind posting or emailing unit BTUs?

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Hi Todd,

      Unfortunately we don’t know much about the heater other than it’s a Modine. Since our park installed it for us we didn’t have any input in the size and we didn’t receive any manual or instructions, so I’m not sure about the BTUs or any other specs really.

      – Adam

  23. Jonathan Bernd says:

    Could you send me some cost details and the reference ?
    Thanks

  24. Stacy says:

    You story sounds very much like ours except we are the landlord! lol..we are trying to heat our warehouse for our tenant and trying to avoid turning on our “over 50 yr old” oil heater! Can you share the units specs e.g. make and model etc so I can research were to find it in the Pittsburgh area?

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Hi Stacy. I just emailed over some info. As I wrote above, unfortunately we don’t know much more than that the unit is a Modine

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